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Free galleries to explore in Melbourne – part one

It’s no secret that Melbourne is the country’s cultural capital. Our thriving arts scene finds world-class public museums next to innovative commercial galleries and edgy artist-run and not-for-profit spaces. Whether you’re an aspiring collector, whiling away an afternoon with a quiet wander through a collection or hyped for the latest blockbuster exhibition, there’s plenty of art on offer across the city.

Arts Precinct – Southbank and Fed Square

Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
NGV Australia is the first public art museum dedicated to showcasing Australian art. As a starting point, the collection acknowledges the power, primacy and cultural diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Major historical and contemporary works can be found from renowned Aboriginal artists including Barak, Judy Watson, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Uta Uta Tjangala. On three levels, you’ll find examples of Australian art from colonial painting right up to surveys of notable contemporary artists working across photography, sculpture, video and mixed media. General entry is free, 10am to 5pm daily.
NGV International
Founded in 1861, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is the oldest and most visited gallery in Australia, and among the top twenty most visited globally. Highlights include a program of ticketed exhibitions – previous blockbusters have included Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Andy Warhol & Ai Wei Wei – but the world-class collection spanning contemporary art, major international historic works, fashion, design and architecture over three levels (including a large outdoor garden) is free. A busy calendar of talks and events means there’s always a new reason to revisit.

A woman sitting reading in the middle of an art gallery

NGV International

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
ACCA is a unique contemporary art space based on the European model of the ‘kunsthalle’, delivering a program of temporary exhibitions and commissions from local and international artists, supported by complementary talks and events. Taking up permanent residence at Southbank in 2002, with its unmistakable rust red exterior designed by local architects Wood Marsh, a visit to ACCA offers a thought-provoking experience. Free entry, open Tuesday to Sunday.
Koorie Heritage Trust
A fantastic resource right in the heart of Fed Square, the Koorie Heritage Trust is a space dedicated to the rich, living Aboriginal culture, heritage and histories of Victoria. Spend some time here exploring artefacts and artworks, along with an oral history collection, photographic archives and a reference library. Book a guided walking tour and discover the stories of life before modern day Melbourne. Owned and managed by Aboriginal people, this not-for-profit cultural centre also offers a range of books, jewellery, clothing and artworks for sale. Free entry, but book for programs and events.
Australian Music Vault
Melbourne is renowned internationally for its music scene so it makes sense that our city is home to the Australian Music Vault. Created by Arts Centre Melbourne in collaboration with the music industry, this permanent free exhibition is a celebration of Australian contemporary music – its past, present and future. From Kylie Minogue’s couture stage outfits to Nick Cave’s lyric notebooks, relive your memories with interactive and digital experiences, iconic objects and informative public programs. They’ve also just added a new display about local hip-hop. See costumes, posters, awards, magazines and rare vinyl by artists like Bliss n Eso, Hilltop Hoods and Sampa the Great. Free and open daily (except Christmas Day).

Flinders Lane art-walk

You could easily spend an entire day just exploring art spaces on Flinders Lane, which are conveniently nearby some of the city’s best restaurants, cafes and bars. Put your walking shoes on and go on an art adventure.
fortyfivedownstairs is a subterranean creative hub housed within a 19th century building. Offering a theatre venue and two galleries under the artistic direction of Mary Lou Jelbart, its mission is to support independent, experimental and thought-provoking art forms. fortyfivedownstairs provides opportunities for innovative and hybrid productions, and for artists not represented commercially to exhibit in an inner city gallery. Drop by to check out this unique venue’s dynamic program.
Craft showcases the best Australian craft and design by leading designers and new talent. A hybrid space with a program of curated exhibitions for emerging and established artists, plus public events and talks. Don’t forget to visit the Craft shop, which has a fabulous range of jewellery, textiles, glass, ceramic and timber works, hand crafted by Australia’s leading designers and freshest new talent.

A white room with a long wooden bench in the middle

Craft, image by Tatjana Plitt

Anna Schwartz Gallery
Making waves in the art scene since 1986, Anna Schwartz Gallery represents an impressive roster of challenging contemporary artists from Australia and overseas. Video is a particular interest, with artists like Angelica Mesiti and Shaun Gladwell, while Schwartz has also been at the forefront of championing conceptual art. Step into this high-end space for a glimpse of the latest in artistic practice.
Gallerists Fran Clark and Suzanne Hampel curate a diverse spectrum of disciplines at ARC ONE. See new work from a strong roster of mid-career Australian artists at the top of their game including Pat Brassington, Imants Tillers and Maria Fernanda Cardoso. A number of high profile Chinese-Australian artists show here too, including Guo Jian and Guan Wei. 
Want to see more of Melbourne’s amazing art? Check out part two of our free gallery guide.